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Fierce Clashes Continue In Somalia

Two days of fierce clashes in Mogadishu between an Islamic militia and forces that have challenged clerics' growing power have killed at least 60 people, according to medical workers.

At least 20 people were killed in fighting Thursday, while the toll from Wednesday was 40, said Dr. Abdi Ibrahim, citing figures gathered from hospitals in Mogadishu by the city's doctors' association.

At least 10 combatants were killed at the front line, said Abdulkadir Ahmed, who saw the dead while fleeing his home there.

A passenger bus was hit by a mortar round, killing five civilians. Gunmen shot dead two passengers in another public bus. Militiamen killed a man who denied them permission to hide behind his house. Two people were killed when a mortar shell exploded at their house, other witnesses said.

Sporadic gunshots that began early Thursday escalated into heavier fighting later in the day, with the sound of exploding mortars and gunfire ringing in northeastern Mogadishu, residents said.

Some Islamist clerics denounced the fighting and pressed both sides to negotiate unconditionally for an end to the conflict.

"This fighting has nothing to do with religion," said Sheik Hassan Indho Giir, chairman of an Islamic Court in the Hararyalleh neighborhood of Mogadishu.

Both sides reinforced their positions overnight with combatants, arms, ammunition and trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns. Commanders held meetings late into Wednesday night to plot strategy.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew the government and then began fighting each other.

Fundamentalist Islamic clerics have increasingly sought to set themselves up as an alternative to the clan-based fiefdoms and the transitional federal government that is struggling to assert its authority.

But businessmen and warlords who formed an armed alliance last month describe the fundamentalist clerics as terrorists and accusing them of killing moderate intellectuals, Muslim scholars and former military officials in a string of unexplained murders.

The two factions first clashed soon after the alliance was formed, in a four-day battle beginning Feb. 18 that killed at least 22 people and wounding more than 120 others.

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